Growing up, Jackson Ruai would travel to Phoenix every weekend with his mother.

During those trips, Ruai would get together with his cousins and play basketball with other kids at an apartment complex.

By fifth grade, Ruai dropped soccer to focus exclusively on basketball. By eighth grade, Ruai decided he wanted to play in college.

And it seems his dreams will come true.

The Amphitheater High School guard has received scholarship offers from Grand Canyon, Nevada, Utah Valley, Portland State and UC Davis. More schools have reached out recently. Ruai, a senior, and the Panthers are 15-2 heading into Monday’s MLK Basketball Classic game against Palo Verde. The teams will tip off at 5 p.m. inside McKale Center.

Ruai’s family hails from South Sudan, but he was born in Egypt. His family moved there from their war-torn country but didn’t stay long. The Ruais relocated to Tucson on June 16, 2004. Jackson was 3 years old.

“Just looking back at my parents, that was the best decision they made,” Ruai said. “For me to even be provided with these opportunities, it means a lot to me.”

Amphi coach Ben Hurley said Ruai’s strongest asset is his leadership on the floor.

“Obviously, you look at him and you see the athleticism that he brings and the talent that he has, but his leadership defensively and his leadership on offense — he sets the tone,” Hurley said. “He’s the motor for our team.”

While Ruai is looking forward to having fun at the holiday tourney at McKale, there are still plenty of personal goals to accomplish. He wants to improve both on offense and defense, and would like to add some more bulk. The 6-foot-3-inch Ruai has gained eight pounds since the start of the season.

However, no matter how often he visits the weight room, Ruai jokes that he’s unable to add much muscle to his lower half. Blame genetics.

“Where I come from, none of us have big legs,” Ruai said with a laugh. “You can see it. If you look at any South Sudanese athletes, we all have skinny legs.”

But even with the skinny, Hurley believes Ruai’s potential.

“He has the potential to play some pretty good basketball at the next level,” Hurley said. “The future is bright for the kid.”

Contact reporter Norma Gonzalez at 520-262-3265 or

Sports reporter

Norma started at the Star in 2017. She's a sports reporter covering all types of beats. She graduated from the University of Texas–Pan American in 2014 and recently graduated from the Associated Press Sports Editors Diversity Fellowship program.